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Posts Tagged ‘Conservatives’

‘Don’t vote for us because you think we’re perfect. Don’t vote for us because of what we might be able to do for you only. Vote for the person who shares your ideals, your hopes, your dreams. Vote for the person who most embodies what you believe we need to keep our nation strong and free. And when you have done that you can go back to Seattle and Boston, to Miami, to Omaha, to Tulsa and Chicago and Atlanta with your head held high and say “I am a member of the Democratic Party”.’

As fans of hit American tv show, the West Wing will recall there is a great moment in the episode “2162 Votes” when Congressman Matt Santos makes his speech to the Democratic Convention where he is meant to step aside in favour of one of the other candidates, only to make the speech of his life and grab the nomination.

This afternoon, at the SNP Party Conference in Perth, huddled at the back of the balcony, as I listened to the debate on NATO I couldn’t help but recall that episode. Not being a delegate I didn’t have a vote in the debate and I went into it with no strong feelings on either side, waiting to be convinced by the speakers.

What a debate we were treated to and what an advertisement for our party and how party democracy should work. I had friends on both sides of the debate and speakers that I greatly admired and, to a man or woman, they all argued their case with passion and commitment, with reason and insight. In parallel to watching the debate in the chamber I was also keeping up with the comments on Twitter (#SNP12) and the simple fact that, as a party, we were prepared to debate such a potentially divisive and controversial issue, not just in a full party conference but in front of the television cameras for the World to see was not lost on anyone. Plaudits for the quality of the debate were coming in from members and supporters of other parties including Labour and the Conservatives.

Whether they were in favour of the resolution or not there was a determination from all in the debate to approach it in a comradely manner. Whether in favour of the resolution or not there was also one issue that united everyone in that chamber and that was a clear an unequivocal opposition to Trident and to nuclear weapons. Be under no doubt whatsoever that today the SNP Conference and its members and delegates reaffirmed its commitment to seeing the removal of the nuclear arsenal from Scotland’s waters. The First Minister had already outlined his intention to include an opposition to nuclear weapons into the written constitution of an Independent Scotland.

In the end the resolution that was passed was a very conditional one. The SNP has long taken an anti-Nuclear and anti-NATO stance. Today there wasn’t really any change in political philosophy from the members or from the party leadership. Instead the debate was one of practicality and of political realism. That isn’t meant to be a criticism. The change came about due to a belief that it was a move that would provide comfort both to the Scottish population at large and also to our international friends and neighbours, a recognition, as Angus Brendan MacNeil put it, of a desire to keep the road to Independence as short as is possible.

Independence is about the transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. It is about ensuring that decisions that affect the people of Scotland, decisions on welfare, on pensions, on immigration and defence as well as health, housing and education are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live in Scotland.

Scotland is an existing member of NATO, as it is an existing member of the UN and the EU. Both sides of the debate proceeded on the basis that, post-Independence, Scotland would inherit membership and treaty obligations in these organisations. The question then would be whether, as a party, we believed that Scotland should withdraw from NATO or continue its membership. Today the party voted by a margin of 426 votes to 332 to continue as a member of NATO on the condition that:

“Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations”.

Essentially today the SNP moved from being anti-NATO to being NATO-sceptic. Because of a recognition of the importance of continuity and of mutual co-operation between nations and, in particular the nations of northern Europe NATO has been given a chance, a chance to prove itself as an organisation that can work in the interests of Scotland and of all its members.

Be under no illusion that today was a significant day in the life of this party. As Kenny MacAskill put it we have moved from being a party of protest to a party of Government and today’s debate exemplified that. Whatever the result had been the real winner today was party democracy and I believe that can be a real example to other political parties, both in Scotland and elsewhere and a sign to the people of Scotland of the kind of government that they should expect post-Independence. The SNP may, of course, be voted out at the first election post-Independence but today we set an example. We may not always agree with each other but, where we do disagree, we should be able to have an open, comradely and reasoned debate.

So on Sunday we can go back to Glasgow and Edinburgh, to Dundee, to Aberdeen, to Inverness and Orkney and Ayr with our heads held high and say, “I am a member of the Scottish National Party.”

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Just when it was thought that there could be a hiatus in domestic politics until the conclusion of the Olympics the tensions in the Coalition once again come to the fore.

It has always been an uneasy alliance between the Tories and the Liberals as much as, by all accounts, the leadership of both parties are really close. Going into the Coalition Nick Clegg sold the deal to his party with the promise of real constitutional reform – changes in the voting system for Westminster and reform of the House of Lords.

On the first count the compromise of a referendum on the Alternative Vote was no real compromise at all. It was the least hated option of all the ones available and the option that no side actually wanted. Now I will admit to voting yes to AV in the Referendum but you will forgive me if I wasn’t overly exorcised about the issue either way. Quite predictably neither were the British public at large and the referendum wasn’t just lost, it disappeared into the ether never to be heard from again.

That was ok for Clegg though because he still had the major promise of reform of the Lords, apparent agreement in the UK Government for a majority elected second chamber. At this point I suppose we are meant to conveniently forget that one of the first acts of the Coalition Government when taking office was to stuff the House of Lords with political appointees (123 up to June 2012) in order to balance out the stuffing of the Lords by the previous Labour Government. 422 new peerages were created in the Labour years, 386 of them under Tony Blair’s premiership. The result of all of this is that the House of Lords has expanded and expanded to a mammoth 775 members.

In contrast it is the mission of Cameron’s Government to reduce the size of the Commons from 650 to 600, a reduction of 10%. Now that the proposals to reform the House of Lords have collapsed, due to the inability to get sufficient agreement from the Tory members, it appears the Liberal Democrats have decided to go tit-for-tat in withdrawing their support for the boundary changes with Simon Hughes MP displaying a distinct lack of subtlety in arguing the case.

Now I am not against the idea of reducing the size of the House of Commons in and of itself. There may very well be a case to be made for bringing forward the proposals, although I do question the motivations of the Conservatives where the net effect appears to be making it easier for them to secure a majority in the future. Ever one for a pithy and apropos cartoon Steve Bell in the Guardian has provided this offering.

The current situation does raise two prominent questions though. Firstly, is the Westminster system reformable at all? Lords reform is not a new topic of discussion. Indeed the Labour Government had consultation after consultation on the issue and, other than a reduction in the number of hereditary peers that were able to sit in the House, intended only as a temporary measure, a starting point, very little has changed.

The second question is one predominantly for Scotland. The Scottish Government is planning to introduce the Referendum Bill to the Scottish Parliament early in 2013. It will contain a lot more detail about the look of an Independent Scotland. What model of Government would you like to see outlined in it given the opportunity to start afresh?

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